The full report into the mass sexual abuse of children in Rotherham is 153 pages long. It makes horrific and infuriating reading. The authors say that their “conservative estimate” is that 1,400 children were exploited, abducted and raped over a sixteen year period by “large numbers” of men, that the abusers had extensive links with organised crime and with other towns in the region.
The scale and depth of the depravity involved is hard to stomach, and still harder to imagine. The unwillingness of either the local authority or South Yorkshire police to do anything at all to stop it is disgusting.
The report details no less than three occasions on which internal reports “which could not have been clearer” were ignored or covered up at every level. Police arrested two fathers who managed to track down their daughters and tried to rescue them from their abusers. Another girl was herself arrested for being drunk when she was found in a house with a gang of adult men – the men were allowed to go.
As well as a general failure to take such appalling crimes seriously, there is evidence that both the council and the police avoided the subject in order to avoid being branded as racist – given the overwhelming evidence that the abusers were Pakistani Muslim men and their chosen victims were white girls.
This is the most depressing aspect of the scandal. A culture of excessive political correctness scared those who were meant to be the last line of defence for these vulnerable children so much that they preferred to abandon them to the most horrific abuse rather than risk appearing racist. Even today various media reports refer to the offenders as “Asian” – an inaccuracy which Rotherham’s Chinese, Hindu and Sikh populations would understandably resent.
Many readers will remember that it was Rotherham Council which took the adopted children of two UKIP members away because they were not deemed to be sufficiently supportive of multiculturalism – outrageous at the time, the tale is made more so by these revelations as to the real child abuse which was going on in the town unheeded by the authorities.
The question is this: How can we prevent another such scandal in another town (or put a stop to it if, God forbid, it is already happening)?
The first priority is that there must be consequences for all those council officers, cabinet members and police officers who were presented with evidence “which could not have been clearer” and yet did nothing. The Council Leader has, belatedly, done the right thing and resigned but the message to all those who have a responsibility to protect children must be clear as day – fail like this and you will be punished. It is hard to understand how anyone who received any of those internal reports or briefings and refused to act can be innocent of misconduct in public office. Criminal investigations of the public bodies involved should begin immediately.
Second, the political parties must do a better job of preparing their councillors to fulfil their role. The vast majority of councillors do a good job, but we can all think of people elected as paper candidates or as lobby-fodder who are so docile that they end up effectively working for council officers rather than scrutinising them. Too many town halls are effectively run by the full-time officers, not by representatives of the people. With local government bureaucracy (and evasion tactics) becoming ever more sophisticated the parties should train their people to navigate, investigate and interrogate it. Doing so would help protect against such scandals but also bring wider benefits in terms of stopping waste, improving accountability and so on.
Third, the police must review the way in which they work with councils. It’s important to have public bodies which work together, but at the same time they must not become so close that they end up protecting each other rather than the public. Child protection, for example, is a council responsibility which should be backed up by the police – but if the council starts to fail then the police ought to be there to insist that they do it, and go over their heads if needs be. In Rotherham, it seems both organisations just wanted a quiet life and put each other’s comfort above the safety of hundreds or thousands of children.
Fourth, the electorate must be told about the dangers of one party states. Rotherham’s Labour administration has a lot to answer for – how many councillors knew and did nothing? How many didn’t even bother to investigate? How were elements of their leadership even recently arguing that the problem was one-off not endemic? But the sheer dominance of one party for so long cannot have helped – Labour should have picked up the problems, but if they didn’t then a more inquiring opposition should have.
This is not a party political point - despite even the best intentions, eternal control by one party can breed laziness in the administration and cowardice in the opposition. Even worse, it often leads council officers to conclude that their bread is buttered on one side, and thus they stop properly fulfilling their duties to assist opposition councillors in probing their work. There are places where small oppositions are active scrutineers and large majorities remain dutifully accountable, but I fear there are plenty more where the overwhelming dominance of one party has effectively put a stop to democratic accountability.
There are many disturbing elements to the Rotherham scandal – the abuse itself, the refusal to give parents or victims justice, the sickening decision to allow abuse rather than risk controversy. Most disturbing of all is the possibility that this may be the first town, rather than the last, to be revealed as the site of such a horror.